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Message from Interim Dean Dr Morris Mthombeni

On this important day, we reflect on where we come from and where we are going. Our country has and continues to experience enormous pain and anguish. I, as I am sure do you, struggle to make sense of what is happening to our country. How is it possible that the nation of Nelson Mandela descends into this situation? We are traumatised by what we have experienced first-hand or seen on TV and social media.

Many are demanding action – but I wonder if now is a time for action or reflection? If you act too quickly in a trauma, you miss the opportunity to learn and understand what is really going on. Many have framed what has happened as our darkest hour, but that only contributes to fear and hopelessness. We are all afraid, we all have a sense of foreboding, perhaps even greater than that felt during other traumatic events in our country such as Marikana and the many Xenophobic attacks. This time it is more widespread and has touched many of us more directly.

We have choices: we can respond in a knee-jerk, destructive way, we can simply give up and give in to the fearfulness and hopelessness, or we can join the many leaders and ordinary people who are providing thoughtful, constructive responses. But we need to be cognizant of our own circumstances - the economic status we enjoy and our personal life circumstances and privileges, in those responses. It is all too easy to respond unsympathetically, unthinkingly, from the comfort of our secure homes and jobs.

We must act with caution because the true depth of our nation's pain is yet to be revealed. Most of all, we need to truly see each other. We need to listen with care and courage, and empathy. Above all, we need to avoid simply becoming an echo chamber. We need to listen to people like "them" – "they" are a part of us, part of me, part of you. We need to invite Ubuntu back into our society.

We are going through 'collective trauma' – a group response to a traumatic event. Historical traumatic events have shown that the difference between individual trauma and collective trauma is that with the former, the trauma dies with the individual. However, collective trauma lives through many generations, embedded in a society's collective memory.

So how do we shape the consequences of this collective trauma? Typically, business' response to traumatic events include lobbying and CSI initiatives, but this is inefficient and inadequate. Instead, as a society, we must take a step back and look for a form of collective healing that is beyond the now – we need a response that talks to a more sustainable solution to our country.

As a business school that prides itself as a convening social place, we need to look at how we can bring people into conversation so that we can all contribute to healing and move beyond just the transactional 'solutions'. My invitation is to build a bridge between collective trauma and collective healing. Collective healing invites leaders and followers to build a path towards the light. The "darkest hour" will remain in our memory of these events, but we need to move into the light.

Some might say it is too soon to forgive and that justice is what is needed. Yes, we want justice, but in the end, justice is also merely an event. We need much more. We need a transformative process for our country.

In the end, it is less about whether to choose action over reflection. It is about doing both while making sure that when we do act, we do so with both empathy and conviction. As I invite all of us to go into the light and learn about forgiveness, I invoke, in the words of Madiba: "May our choices reflect our hopes and not our fears".



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